Wasn’t there twenty years ago

[This is the ninth post in a series. For a little background on the thinking behind this, please read this.]

I am fortunate to have grown up knowing three of my grandparents well, with them all living close by. I spent a lot of time with them growing up, and am very grateful both to have known them and for the glimpse this has given me into my parents’ upbringing. My father’s father was a terrific gentlemen, old-fashioned in the best of ways, and a wonderful husband, father, and grandfather. Other than loving to wallop me in Parcheesi, he was always gentle and generous and patient.


When I was fifteen, I was with my grandfather one afternoon, driving around town on errands. I remember my age because I was nearing the time when I would receive my driver’s license, and I paid very careful attention to everyone’s driving as I was preparing for the day when I would be behind the wheel. As we drove down a street this day, approaching an intersection I pass several times a week now, I could sense my grandfather was not slowing for the stop sign, and sure enough we drove right through it. He was a careful, cautious, law-abiding man, and this astonished me, so I blurted out, “What about that stop sign?” Without missing a beat, his even-toned reply came back: “It wasn’t there twenty years ago.”

At the time, his answer made no sense to me at all. On the surface, it made no difference how long the sign had been there. Beyond that, the idea of twenty years was beyond my ability to imagine, and so I could not fathom the idea he expressed. Now that I am old enough for my children to have decided I am old and boring, I have an adequate sense of time to grasp what he was saying that day. I even know of certain intersections in town where the stop signs are of a recent enough vintage that I must make a very deliberate effort to stop, as those signs have not taken their places in my mental map yet. I suspect they will not do so for almost another twenty years.

• • • • • • •

Age is a tricky thing. Very few moments trigger in me the thought “I am aging”, although a few will spark a fleeting “I have aged.” I watch my children grow like some time-lapse on the internet, with the oldest now taller than his mother and the youngest uncomfortably learning about being an individual, and I think about how little time has passed since they were babes-in-arms, innocent and ignorant of the big world. Before I know it we will be tackling high school, driving, college, and who knows what next. As a kid, I imagined that one day I would feel grown up inside, admittedly with no clear sense of what I meant by that or how I anticipated that to feel. My grandmother (married to the driver mentioned above for more than fifty years) said to me about twenty years ago that on the inside, she still felt sixteen. I knew as she said it she meant it, I knew she was not teasing, and I knew she had all her wits and this was a heartfelt observation, but like that missed stop sign, I could not make heads or tails of what she was trying to tell me. Now as I look ahead and as I glance behind, I know what she means about feeling the same inside. There is comfort to that, of being yourself in a way that endures through age and time, but it is also unsettling to realize that there may be no moment when feeling like a grown up settles over you, despite having a lovely wife, a comfortable house, wonderful children, an approximate career, and many other props associated with adulthood.

• • • • • • •

On occasion, I try to offer my kids some advice that builds on a longer perspective than their tender years permit, and I almost always feel like I cannot express what I am trying to in a way that might be helpful to them. My question to you then is how do you convey the passage of significant time or the perspective of maturity to someone young? Have you even tried? Did they hear you?

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